This essay is adapted from The Lincoln Miracle: Inside the Republican Convention that Changed History, by Edward Achorn (Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 512 pages, $30.00.)

The Lincoln Miracle

In the chaos, nothing but shouting and cheering could be heard, a correspondent for the Buffalo Daily Courier reported. “Western fellows” were different from Easterners, he explained, “taking a sample of the men who have been staying at the house I am at, six feet and over, with constitutions like the oxen they raise on their prairies, and lungs of prodigious capacities, they can halo longer and louder than almost any other men you will meet.” While the cannon was still booming, half a dozen men were standing on their seats screaming for recognition so that they could switch their states’ votes to Lincoln. 

Before the secretary could announce the results of the third ballot—formally declaring Lincoln the nominee—delegations demanded to be heard. Party unity would be essential going forward. But would the devastated New Yorkers fully support Lincoln? “New York! New York!” members of the audience cried out. The chairman of the delegation, Evarts, finally claimed the floor. 

“Physically,” observed Iowa correspondent L. D. Ingersoll, Evarts “does not amount to much, being rather small of stature, and of no very prepossessing appearance. Nevertheless, you can see that he is a man of decision, nerve, and backbone.” A silence fell on the Wigwam “so profound that you might have heard a pin drop anywhere in the vast building,” one reporter wrote.

“Mounting a table,” New York Times correspondent Joseph Howard recounted, “with grief manifest in his countenance, his hands clenched nervously, and every nerve quivering with excitement,” Evarts began to speak. He noted the delegation had come to Chicago with unanimous support for a noble son “who had served the state from boyhood up, who had labored for and loved it.” Out of love for the great republic and for liberty, the delegation had voted unanimously for William Seward. “For, gentlemen, it was from Gov. Seward that most of us learned to love Republican principles and the Republican Party.” 

Evarts concluded with an emotional appeal for unity. Seward’s “fidelity to the country, the constitution and the laws; his fidelity to the party and the principle that the majority govern; his interest in the advancement of our party to its victory, that our country may rise to its true glory, induces me to assume to speak his sentiments, as I do, indeed, the opinions of our whole delegation when I move you, as I do now, that the nomination of Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, as the Republican candidate for the suffrages of the whole country for the office of Chief Magistrate of the American Union, be made unanimous.” Those who heard Evarts’s appeal, Howard noted, “could not fail to be impressed with the idea that a man who could have such a friend must be a noble man indeed.” The correspondent for the North Iowa Times found it a “brief and beautiful eulogy,” though it “resembled a funeral sermon rather than a cheerful acquiescence” in Lincoln’s nomination.

John A. Andrew of Massachusetts spoke of his state’s love of liberty—of Bunker Hill, of Lexington and Concord, of the brilliant political philosophers who spoke at Faneuil Hall, and of the Massachusetts Constitution, which had banned slavery even before the nation was born. “The affection of our hearts and the judgment of our intellects bound our political fortunes to William Henry Seward . . . the brightest and most shining light of this political generation.” In “the thickest and hottest of every battle” for freedom, Andrew noted, “there waved the white plume of the gallant leader of New York.” But Massachusetts was ready to fight now for Abraham Lincoln. “We know that this cause of ours is bound to triumph, and that the American people will, one day, be convinced, if not in 1860, that the path of duty and patriotism leads in the direction of the Republican cause.”

Ingersoll looked over at Horace Greeley. “All this time, there sat, just to my right, the white-haired, small-eyed, breeches-rolled-up Philosopher of the Tribune, calm as a placid lake on which no zephyr blows, and, beyond all peradventure cool as a cucumber. With his head on his cane, he was ruminating, doubtless, on the transitoriness of all things in general, and the downfall of Bates in particular,” wrote Ingersoll.

Schurz, speaking for Wisconsin, insisted that, “even if the name of William H. Seward should remain in history an instance of the highest merit uncrowned with the highest honor,” his “ambition will be satisfied with the success of the cause which was the dream of his youth, and to which he has devoted all the days of his manhood.” With a platform as noble as the one the Republicans had passed, and with a candidate “who so fairly represents it, as Mr. Lincoln does, we defy all the passion and prejudice that may be enforced against us by our opponents. We defy the whole slave power and the whole vassalage of hell.”

Austin Blair of Michigan made what Halstead called “the speech of the hour.” At “your behest here today,” he told the delegates, Michigan “lays down her first, best-loved candidate to take up yours, with some bleeding of the heart, with some quivering in the veins; but she does not fear that the fame of Seward will suffer, for she knows that his fame is a portion of the history of the American Union; it will be written and read and beloved long after the temporary excitement of this day has passed away, and when Presidents are themselves forgotten in the oblivion which comes over all temporal things. We stand by him still. . . . We marshal now behind him in the grand column which shall go out to battle for Lincoln.” There was more regret than celebration in these speeches.

Still in a daze over Lincoln’s win—at first unable to speak, “almost disabled” by emotion—Orville Browning got up to put in a word for Illinois. “We are so much elated at present that we are scarcely in a condition to collect our own thoughts, or to express them intelligently to those who may listen to us,” he began. But he wanted to stress the state’s admiration for Seward. The men of Illinois fought against him “solely because we believed here that we could go into battle on the prairies of Illinois with more hope and more prospect of success under our own noble son.” 

No lover of liberty could do other than to venerate Seward’s name, Browning said. “On this occasion, I desire to say, only, that the hearts of the Illinois delegation are to-day filled with emotions of gratification for which they have no utterance. We are not more overcome by the triumph of our noble Lincoln, loving him as we do, knowing the purity of his past life, the integrity of his character, and devotion to the principles of our party, and the gallantry with which we will be conducted through this contest, than we are by the magnanimity of our friends of the great and glorious State of New York in moving to make this nomination unanimous.” Lincoln had shown strong judgment in sending Browning, though initially a Bates man, to Chicago.

With that, the motion was carried. “No human body could attend to business after such a scene,” the New York Times reported, so at about 1:30 p.m., the convention moved to adjourn and to reconvene at 5:00 p.m. Before going, the delegates approved Evarts’s suggestion that a committee of the chairmen of the delegations meet at 3:00 p.m. at the Richmond House, obviously to settle on a vice-presidential nominee. Evarts also asked his fellow New Yorkers to convene immediately after adjournment at their Richmond House headquarters, surely to figure out whether they wanted a say in the matter.

Women exited the building with their fashionable clothing crushed and ruined by the mob. The “crinoline which entered in the a.m., in all its glory was undiscernible on its exit,” a reporter noted. Thirty thousand people surrounding the Wigwam were cheering maniacally. “There were bands of music playing, and processions marching, and joyous cries heard on every hand, from the army of trumpeters for Lincoln of Illinois, and the thousands who are always enthusiastic on the winning side,” Halstead wrote. But he noticed that those who had screamed inside the Wigwam and had stood at a pitch of excitement for hours “were hardly able to walk to their hotels. There were men who had not tasted liquor who staggered about like drunkards, unable to manage themselves.” The Seward men “were mortified beyond expression, and walked thoughtfully and silently away from the slaughterhouse, more ashamed than embittered.” They accepted Lincoln’s nomination, “but did not pretend to be pleased with it,” and they were not hopeful Lincoln would be elected. “It was their funeral and they would not make merry.”

In Cleveland, as in many cities, residents anxiously awaited the news. “The anxiety was by no means confined to politicians, for we heard a diminutive apple girl gravely ask a customer if Seward was nominated,” reported the Cleveland Morning Leader, Joseph Medill’s old paper. The sidewalk in front of the Leader office’s bulletin board was “crowded with men waiting for the first flash of the electric current which should tell the story.” Then a special dispatch arrived. A messenger rushed into the office to have it set in type, shouting to all in earshot, “Lincoln on the third ballot!” People snapped up copies of a hastily printed extra that newsboys loudly hawked in the streets. The newspaper removed a photograph of Lincoln from the office and hung it on the front door, attracting the interest of the crowds in the street, who had no idea what the man looked like. “It must be confessed that our standard bearer is not remarkable for beauty, as the world goes, but has an air of sturdy independence and manliness, which attracts by its very singularity.” 

The House of Joy Turned To a House or Mourning

In Auburn, the Reverend Austin was conversing with Seward about the first ballot when Theodore Dimon, the senator’s personal doctor and friend, rushed into the garden with news of the second and third ballots. “As he drew near us, he threw up his hands and exclaimed aloud—Oh, God, it is all gone, gone, gone! Abraham Lincoln has received the nomination!!” Austin was staggered. “His voice thrilled my heart with an agonizing sensation which it is totally impossible to describe. Had a thunder bolt from a clear sky struck Gov. Seward dead at my feet, I should not have been more startled or shocked!” The minister looked at Seward. “A deadly paleness overspread his countenance for an instant, succeeded instantly by a flush, and then all was calm as a summer morning.” Seward resumed talking about the balloting, “and was the most composed man of the three or four who were present.”

Austin could barely believe it. “I never was more disappointed and pained in my life by an event so sudden and unlooked for. Had we not been made so confident of success by the dispatches which had been received for several days. But to be elevated to such a degree, and then suddenly plunged down by an overthrow totally unlooked for, made the revulsion more cutting and painful.” It was appalling. “The Republican Party have made a sad and fatal mistake. Through an over-ardent desire for success and in an unworthy distrust of the strength and permanency of their principles they have thrust aside a great and good man who was the Founder and Father of their Party, and whose only offense has been unwavering fidelity to its principles, and adopted a candidate who, although a good and true man, was comparatively obscure and unknown. I fear they will see the day when they will deeply regret this ungrateful and cruel abandonment.”

The Auburn Democrat, savoring the embarrassment of the great local Republican, reported that Dr. Dimon arrived at Seward’s front gate “so pale, trembling and speechless with agony, that even the lions that guard the Governor’s mansion were moved to tears.” The doctor’s “woe-begone face told that the ‘Defender of the Rights of Man’ was sacrificed on the altar of expediency—sacrificed for Abraham Lincoln, a bar-room politician, who, compared with Gov. Seward, is as ‘satyr to a Hyperion’”—another Hamlet reference. “The house of joy was turned into a house of mourning.” 

The doctor instructed the artillerymen, who were waiting for a signal, to go home. There would be no cannon blasts in Auburn for Lincoln’s nomination. “The Doctor approached them—his face as long as one of the rails that ‘Honest Abe Lincoln’ used to split—and ordered the cannon back to the armory. He ‘would not fire for a Democratic victory,’ and was so little a soldier that he could not see the utility of firing at a funeral.” Henry B. Stanton painted a similar scene. “The flags were furled, the cannon was rolled away, and Cayuga county went home with a clouded brow.” The pro-Seward Auburn Daily Advertiser reported that Lincoln had won the nomination and added, “We have no time nor heart for comment.”

Seward’s 15-year-old daughter, Fanny, wrote in her diary that her father came into the house and “told Mother and I—in three words, ‘Abraham Lincoln nominated.’” She was struck that he took the defeat “with philosophical & unselfish coolness.” While his friends “feel much distress—he alone has a smile.” The Reverend Austin, who found that Friday “one of the most painful and trying days of my life,” left soon after, while other friends of Seward flocked to his house to offer their heartfelt sympathies.

Austin could not stay away. He called twice more at the Seward house, in the afternoon and evening, and joined other gentlemen in gathering around the senator, as at a wake. “I also went into Mrs. Seward’s room and had a conversation with her on the subject. I found her calm and self-possessed, and not disposed to murmur in the least, at the sudden turn affairs had taken.” Frances Adeline Seward, 54, had been married to Seward for 35 years and disliked the ways of Washington. Whatever she felt about the news, she knew that her husband’s lifelong political dream had been crushed. “This is a most affectionate woman,” Austin wrote. “While we were sitting in the Governor’s room, after the sad intelligence had arrived—(some six or seven gentlemen being present) she came in, spoke a few words to each of us, threw her arms around the Governor’s neck, kissed him and retired! Faithful, true and loving wife!”

The Republican Wigwam, Chicago, 1860. Interim Archives/Getty Images

Unanimous Amid Intense Enthusiasm

Abraham Lincoln waited in the telegraph office in Springfield for the report of the second ballot. When it came in around noon, it showed that Pennsylvania had swung to him, and that Lincoln had all but closed the gap with Seward. “This I thought from his manner he considered as virtually deciding the nomination,” recalled Charles Zane. Confronted with this stunning turn of events, Lincoln did not wait for the final vote. He left the building and went over to the second-story headquarters of the Illinois State Journal next door, where he could burn off nervous energy talking with the folks gathered there.

The others remaining at the telegraph office closely studied the operator when a further report came clicking in. The man working the machine threw down his pencil, “evidently excited,” Zane recalled. Then, taking it up, he wrote down the dispatch straight from the Wigwam and, according to the Chicago Journal, handed it to a messenger boy, who hurried over to the Illinois State Journal offices, where Lincoln was chatting with people. The boy gave it to Lincoln. “TO LINCOLN YOU ARE NOMINATED,” it read. “He took the paper in hand, and looked at it long and silently, not heeding the noisy exultation of all around,” the Chicago Journal reported. “When the second ballot came I knew this must Come,” he said quietly. After studying it at length, he put the note in his vest pocket.

Zane was struck by the nominee’s composure. “He received all with apparent coolness from the expressions playing on his Countenance however a close observer Could detect Strong emotions within.” 

Telegram after telegram quickly followed. “Abe Lincoln: We did it, glory to God,” wrote delegate Nathan M. Knapp, a fellow Illinois lawyer, from Chicago. “Abraham Lincoln: You’re nominated & elected,” wrote Springfield resident J. J. Richards, who quickly followed with: “Hon. A. Lincoln: You were nominated on 3rd ballot.” More news from the Wigwam came over the wire: “Hon. A. Lincoln: Vote just announced. . . . On motion of Mr. Evarts of New York, the nomination was made unanimous amid intense enthusiasm.”

Lincoln did not stay at the newspaper office for long. He quietly remarked, “There’s a little woman down at our house would like to hear this. I’ll go down and tell her.” Mary, after all, had long believed his brilliant mind and talent might make him president, even when Lincoln himself had treated such ambitions as a joke. The quote appeared in newspapers across the country, an early harbinger of Lincoln’s charmingly down-to-earth nature.

Word quickly leaked out onto the street and shouts for Lincoln began. Someone told Lincoln, “I suppose we will soon have a book containing your life now,” to which Lincoln replied that there was not much in his life to write about. (He had expressed much the same to Jesse Fell half a year earlier, when submitting a 602-word autobiography: “There’s not much of it for the reason, I suppose, that there is not much of me.”) 

At the foot of the stairs leading down from the newspaper office, Zane recalled, a group of “Irish & American Citizens” congratulated the nominee. “Boys,” he joked, “you had better come and shake hands with me now that you have an opportunity—for you do not Know what influence the nomination may have on me. I am human, you Know.”

Lincoln’s neighbor James Gourley recalled that Lincoln was “agitated—turned pale—trembled” as he walked home from the Journal office. For years, Lincoln had just been Lincoln to the people of Springfield—the homely, smart, good-natured lawyer who was away half the year working the judicial circuit; the father of rambunctious—some said rude and spoiled—boys, and the husband of a bright and loyal but sometimes cantankerous wife; the country entertainer who told knee-slapping jokes around pot bellied stoves in downtown stores and offices; and the politician who had gotten himself some national notoriety by almost toppling the Little Giant, Stephen Douglas. Suddenly, a major party with a strong chance of winning in November had chosen this very Lincoln as its candidate for president of the United States.

As the tall man in the stovepipe hat strode on with his lumbering gait, his fellow citizens turned and looked at him “with a feeling of great satisfaction . . . mingled with Considerable of pride,” Zane recalled. People pointed at him and said, “Yonder goes Lincoln.” He had “grown in their interest that morning.” 

iStock/Getty Images

Great Enthusiasm

For the first time, a man from Illinois had been nominated for president, and Chicagoans began to celebrate. Joy & Frisbie, which supplied the city with ice from massive ice houses in suburban Crystal Lake, quickly rounded up all 40 of its horse-drawn delivery wagons and sent them out behind a marching band, “much to the amusement of spectators for its novelty and much to their own advantage as an advertisement,” the Chicago Press and Tribune noted. Out on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, men festooned their vessels with American flags. “The steamtugs are whistling out their gratifications, drums are beating, children in the streets cry out for Lincoln, and the Douglas men look glum,” the New York Daily Herald reported.

During the convention’s lunch break, Murat Halstead observed an Illinois man roaring at a dinner table at the Tremont House, making a profanity-laced speech about Lincoln’s victory to his immediate neighbors, none of whom he knew. “Talk of your money and bring on your bullies with you!—the immortal principles of the everlasting people are with Abe Lincoln, of the people, by—.” The prairie lawyer had done it without Thurlow Weed’s well-oiled political machine or Tom Hyer’s fists. “Abe Lincoln has no money and no bullies, but he has the people by—.” A waiter approached and asked what the man would like to eat. “Go to the devil—what do I want to eat for? Abe Lincoln is nominated, G—d—d it; and I’m going to live on air—the air of Liberty by —.” 

In a moment, though, the man requested the bill of fare, and ordered “a great deal of everything.” As Halstead wrote, “He swore he felt as if he could ‘devour and digest an Illinois prairie.’ And this was one of thousands.”

Telegrams bombarded the nominee. Jesse Fell, Lincoln’s long-time Bloomington friend, reported from Chicago: “City wild with Excitement—from my inmost heart I congratulate you.” Lincoln’s friends and fellow lawyers Ward Hill Lamon and William W. Orme wrote: “God bless you we are happy & may you ever be. Your success is sure in November as it has been today.”

Lincoln’s friend and fellow lawyer William M. Dickson, whose wife was a first cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln, telegraphed from Cincinnati: “My humble congratulations great Enthusiasm our guns thundering all over.”

With dollar signs in their eyes, publishers and writers immediately clamored for Lincoln’s blessings. An official of Follett, Foster and Company, of Columbus, Ohio, publisher of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, telegraphed Lincoln to notify him that “we have announced your biography.” The company asked that Lincoln “please designate your pleasure if any as to who the writer shall be.” Horace White, the 25-year-old Press and Tribune reporter and friend of Lincoln, was already lobbying for the job, telegraphing the nominee that “I shall probably be appointed your Biographer in behalf of Follett Foster & Co.” The “matter is under consultation among your friends,” he informed Lincoln, promising to “go immediately to Springfield” if chosen. (As it turned out, a 23-year-old named William Dean Howells—later one of the masters of 19th-century American literature—won the nod to write the official biography.) B. Cooke and Company, a Chicago concern that published railway guides, lawbooks, city directories, and political books, telegraphed Lincoln that it had been “Engaged to Edit a volume of your life & speeches,” begging him to “give no one else the preference.” It urged: “Answer at once.” 

Instantly, Lincoln had become a red-hot commodity. Several people thought that a moment of high drama could cap the convention and set the party aflame. Since Springfield was only about 200 miles away, they proposed rushing Lincoln up to accept his nomination in person and rouse the Republicans before they departed for home. “There is great of enquiry made is Mr Lincoln coming up,” J. J. A. Wilson telegraphed Lincoln. “What can I say you are Expected.” J. J. Richards informed Lincoln by telegram: “The Republicans of the United States assembled at the wigwam want you here tonight will you come.” Charles H. Ray, the editor-in-chief of the Press and Tribune, also telegraphed, suggesting Lincoln might arrive Saturday: “I congratulate you. Shall you be up tomorrow morning answer.” A correspondent for the Bloomington Daily Pantagraph reported as fact that Friday: “A special train has been sent after Mr. Lincoln; it will arrive with him this evening.”

All this horrified David Davis, already exhausted after a nerve-racking week. He evidently feared that Lincoln’s sudden appearance in Chicago would set off a catastrophic explosion. Despite the sad speeches by Seward supporters moving that Lincoln’s nomination be made unanimous, the party was far from unified. The New Yorkers were furious and needed time to cool down. Lincoln’s closest friends and allies raced to the telegraph office and fired off a barrage of frantic messages. “Dont come here for God’s sake,” Davis telegraphed, adding, “You will be telegraphed by others to come It is the united [advice] of your friends not to come this is important.” Leonard Swett telegraphed: “Dont let any one persuade you to come here.” Similar telegrams poured in from Norman Judd, Jesse Dubois, William Butler, Chicago grain merchant Solomon Sturgis, and Gustave Koerner. Charles Ray amended his earlier telegram, joining with fellow journalists John Locke Scripps and Joseph Medill to inform Lincoln that they had consulted with Pennsylvanians, who felt he should not come “till after New York has gone home.” Davis shot off a second telegram: “Write no letters & make no promises till You see me—write me at Bloomington when to see you—I must see you soon.” He surely needed to see him to explain how Illinois obtained the votes that put Lincoln over the top. Whether or not the pile of panicked telegrams influenced him, the cautious Lincoln stayed put.

In Chicago, people were still scratching their heads over what the convention had just done. “The nomination of Abram Lincoln, although not entirely unexpected, took even his friends by surprise,” observed a Philadelphia Press correspondent, who did not yet know the candidate’s first name. “He was as little known to the delegates of the Republican party assembled in the Convention as he is known to the country at large, and this was shown by the fact that no one attempted to discuss his character or the effect of the nomination upon the country at large.” The only thing that seemed to matter to the delegates was whether he was more electable than Seward.

New York Times correspondent Joseph Howard, racing to complete his report before the final post of the day, found it difficult to write. He too was exhausted, struggling to form his words while pandemonium engulfed the Tremont House. Everybody was drinking. “The rooms of the Massachusetts Delegation are directly opposite mine, and Gilmore’s band is now in there playing ‘When Swallows Homeward Fly.’ The rooms of the Pennsylvania Delegation are ‘round the corner,’ and the Pittsburgh band strikes up ‘Hail Columbia,’ after which the ‘Light-guard band’ of Chicago, which is stationed in the Hall below, gives us the benefit of the ‘Star Spangled Banner;’ so you see we have pretty lively times,” he wrote. 

Mark Delahay, the self-centered Kansan whose stay in Chicago had been funded by Lincoln, also wrote a letter at the Tremont, his last to Lincoln from the convention. “I am excited & exhausted,” he told his friend. This “is the happiest day of my checkquerd life.”

The party’s leaders had little time for dinner and celebrations. They needed to choose a vice president before the convention resumed at 5:00 p.m., and they did not have time to consult the party’s nominee—one of the consequences of having no candidates on hand at the convention. The most important task at this point was to soothe the New York men, who were enraged about the day’s events and did not care who knew it. A Buffalo Courier correspondent visited their headquarters at the Richmond House that afternoon and concluded that “such another sorry set of fellows are not in this city.” 

Horace Greeley, iStock/Getty Images

The Fangs of the Viper Greeley

The New Yorkers blamed one man above all for the disaster: New-York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, who had the audacity to be there at the headquarters, mingling with the crowd and carrying on as if he had done nothing wrong. “They accuse Greeley of stabbing Seward, and say he shall be paid for it,” the Courier correspondent wrote. “The curses heaped upon the head of the old man are loud and deep, such as men who have been disappointed in long cherished hopes, may be expected to indulge in.” Some delegates even cursed Greeley to his face, “and he did not seem to exactly relish the position he has placed himself in.”

Pro-Seward editor Isaac Platt was furious. The Republicans’ shameful abandonment of Seward, he contended, had been “brought about by the machinations of his enemies,” including “mercenaries sent under pay to do the dirty work of demagogues in the distance, who, jealous of him they assailed, were ashamed to appear themselves.” With them “were knaves, fools and cowards,” who were “ready to second any treachery as pretexts offered.” Greeley, he believed, had betrayed his principles by backing Edward Bates. The Tribune editor surely knew that such a candidate would divide Republicans and depress the party’s base, dimming its prospects for victory in November. The party’s betrayal of Seward would have been all for nothing, Platt contended. For all his rhetoric about saving the nation, Greeley intended only “to stab Mr. Seward at every point and prevent his nomination. His course called forth expressions of indignation from every quarter, as it was well known that jealousy of Thurlow Weed, whom he is anxious and ambitious to supplant, was his moving motive.”

Tall, handsome, silver-haired James Watson Webb, editor of the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer, who admired Seward so much that he named one of his sons William Seward Webb, also pointed the finger straight at Greeley. Believing that four-fifths of America’s Republicans, including a large majority of delegates, had favored Seward, Webb had been sending the senator encouraging telegrams from Chicago.

He did not realize until it was too late that delegates’ minds had been poisoned “by apprehensions created by his friend Greeley.” The blameless Seward had been “sacrificed to the most infamous and systematic falsehoods, having their foundation in personal malice and the desire of revenge,” Webb reflected bitterly in his newspaper.

The correspondent for the Democratic North Iowa Times visited the New York headquarters with some fellow journalists and discovered “a scene of madness” that no Lincoln man could have imagined. They “listened to groans for Lincoln, cheers for Seward and for Douglas, and denunciations of ‘the baseness of the Pennsylvania delegates’ till we became sorry for the Empire boys.” Older Seward men looked sad, and younger ones were furious. The men there thought that the 35 electoral votes of New York had been traded for the “merest chance” of 11 from Illinois. “No cheers could be got” for Lincoln, while “Horace Greeley was threatened with a universal effigy burning throughout New York.”

Democratic papers saw it much the same way as the Seward delegates. A highly amused editor at the Richmond Dispatch in Virginia suggested that Seward should have taken greater care to avoid the fangs of the viper Greeley. “This illustrious personage of the white hat is considered by some in his party to be so guileless, inoffensive and ignorant of the world, that he can be trampled upon with impunity. But Greeley has shown that he can bite the heel that treads on him, and that there is venom enough in his composition, when scientifically condensed and energetically ejected, to annihilate the king of beasts.” Lincoln’s triumph, he wrote, was merely a byproduct of “the intrigues of Horace Greeley and old Blair . . . who, though they could not obtain the nomination for Madame Bates, their first love, yet prevented the success of the apostle of higher law.” Seward, it seemed, had somehow given offense to Greeley, “and he has never been forgiven though it was he who first raised the editor of the Tribune to importance.” In Chicago, Greeley had taken his well-timed revenge. Seward “fell, covered with innumerable wounds, most of them in his back. In his dying agony he turned a reproachful look on Greeley, and, in the words of stabbed Caesar to Brutus, exclaimed, ‘Et tu quoque, Brute!’”

New York Times editor Henry Raymond found the betrayal no laughing matter. Like Platt, he believed this execrable convention had turned out to be about one thing: destroying Seward. And “in that endeavor, Mr. Greeley labored harder and did tenfold more than the whole family of Blairs, together with all the Gubernatorial candidates.” In his postmortem published the following week, Raymond argued that Greeley had influence on the Republican delegates only because he had advanced the cause of freedom for decades. Greeley had defended Seward’s courageous stand against the Know-Nothings. He had urged his reelection to the Senate in the face of bitter opposition. He had been known to be his friend and loyal supporter. “These things gave him a hold upon the Republican sentiment of the country, and a weight of authority in everything relating to Gov. Seward,” far beyond the influence of the Blairs. Greeley abused that trust to bring Seward down. “Mr. Greeley was in Chicago several days before the meeting of the Convention,” Raymond noted bitterly, “and he devoted every hour of the interval to the most steady and relentless prosecution of the main business which took him thither—the defeat of Gov. Seward. He labored personally with delegates as they arrived—commending himself always to their confidence by professions of regard and the most zealous friendship for Gov. Seward, but presenting defeat even in New-York, as the inevitable result of his nomination.”

His words carried weight, Raymond argued, because everyone believed Greeley was still friendly with Seward. They were unaware of his private letter angrily dissolving the firm of Seward, Weed and Greeley after his friends had blocked his rise in politics. Had that story been known in Chicago, “it would have disarmed the deadly effect of his pretended friendship” with Seward, “upon whom he was thus deliberately wreaking the long hoarded revenge of a disappointed office-seeker.” Delegates would have realized that his actions were “stimulated by a hatred he had secretly cherished for years.” But Seward had kept the letter secret, and even Weed and Raymond knew nothing about it.

Thus, Greeley was “protected by the forbearance of those whom he assailed,” while he remained “strong in the confidence of those upon whom he sought to operate.”

Even some of Seward’s opponents agreed that Greeley had made all the difference. “Greeley slaughtered Seward and saved the party,” Indiana editor John D. Defrees wrote to congressman Schuyler Colfax during the convention’s afternoon break. “He deserves the praises of all men, and gets them now. Wherever he goes he is greeted with cheers”—except, of course, at the headquarters of pro-Seward states. Greeley, for his part, continued to insist Bates would have been the wisest choice. As for Seward, Greeley wrote, “I was never insensible to his many good and some great qualities, both of head and heart. But I did not and do not believe it advisable that he should be the Republican candidate for President.” Privately, Greeley complained that others should not have left it to him to fight Seward, “considering where I live and the power of the sore-heads to damage me.” Unfortunately, other Seward opponents had been scared off by “fear of Weed’s resentment”—Schuyler Colfax among them. “I don’t think you wanted to come face to face with Weed in a case wherein his heart was so set on a triumph,” Greeley complained to the calculating congressman. “I ought not to have been obliged to expose myself to the deadliest resentment of all the Seward crowd, as I did. But what I must do, I will, regardless of consequences.”

Greeley would survive the boiling contempt of his fellow New Yorkers, the Buffalo Courier writer predicted. The people of the West still loved him. Even at the Richmond House headquarters, he remained “a popular man among the sturdy farmers of this region, and he was followed about the room, by people of this class and others, curious to hear him talk on the questions absorbing the thought of every one here.” But the Irrepressibles would leave Chicago spitting with anger about Greeley’s betrayal. In their minds, he had shoved Seward off the cliff, and they would never forgive him for it. 

Led by Weed, they would eventually have their revenge.


Excerpted from THE LINCOLN MIRACLE © 2023 by Edward Achorn. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

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About Edward Achorn

EDWARD ACHORN, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Commentary and winner of the Yankee Quill Award, is the author of Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, as well as two acclaimed books about nineteenth-century baseball and American culture, Fifty-nine in ’84 and The Summer of Beer and Whiskey. His latest book is The Lincoln Miracle: Inside the Republican Convention That Changed History.

Photo: A figurative portrayal of the rift within the Republican party resulting from the nomination of Abraham Lincoln for the presidency in 1860. Pierce Archive LLC/Buyenlarge via Getty Images